Saberhagen, Fred – The Swords 03 – The Third Book Of Swords

the rim of that terrible battlefield. There the giant

stopped, and set down the man who had been rid-

ing on his shoulders; and from that point the man

alone, a gray-caped figure bearing a bright Sword

in hand, walked on alone into the field of doom and


Rostov, puzzled, tried to make out where the

man-was he wearing a mask?-was headed. Then

the General realized that there was still one other

human figure standing on the battlefield–way out

there, at its center.

It was the Silver Queen, leaning on the blade that

she was too immobilized to cast down. When

Rostov and his soldiers saw the Emperor take it

from her hands, and sheath it, they could feel how a

change for the better, came instantly over the

nearby world.

The General turned to his troops, shouting:

“They’re not all dead out there! Some of the Dark

King’s hellions are starting to wake up already!

What’re you waiting for, get out there and disarm

them while you can!”


When the party of the surviving gods in their

retreat had climbed above the snow level of the

Ludus Mountains, the blind man they carried with

them began to curse and rail at them again. He

ranted as if they were still under his command; and

Vulcan, listening, began to be sorry that he had

picked the man up and brought him along.

The Smith still had other company, present inter-

mittently. Gray-bearded Zeus, proud Apollo, Aph-

rodite, Hades. They and some others came and

went. Hades was, as always, never far from his true

domain, the Earth. Diana had walked with them for

a while, but had dropped out of the group early,

saying only that she heard another kind of call.

Vilkata, the man they had brought with them,

was shivering and in rags. The golden circlet had

fallen from his head days ago, and his power to

command demons had gone with it. He kept

groaning, whining that he’d lost his Sword. He was

raving now, demanding that food and slaves and

wine be brought to him.

Why did I bring him with me? Vulcan pondered

once again. The Smith himself had regained some

of his strength since the servants of Ardneh,

perceiving him as no longer violent and dangerous,

had loosed his bonds and let him go. But he was

still far from what he once had been, and some-

times he feared that he was dying.

Apollo had told them all several times in the

course of the retreat that they were all dying now,

or would be soon, himself included. The world had

changed again, Apollo said.

The man they carried with them at least gave

them all some connection to humanity. Though

Vulcan still did not want to admit they needed that.

He said now to the man perched on his shoulder,

as if talking to some half-intelligent pet: “We might

find some food for you somewhere. But there is no

wine-none that you can drink-and certainly no

human slaves.”

“But I have you as my slaves,” the man rasped

back. Today his proud voice was weakening rap-

idly. “And you are gods, and goddesses. Therefore

all the Earth is mine.”

From behind, Apollo asked: “You cannot feel it,

little man?”

“Feel what?” He who had been the Dark King

turned his blind face back and forth. In a more lucid

voice he demanded: “Where are we?” Then, a

moment later, again: “Feel what?”

Apollo said: “That the humans whose dreams

created us, and gave us power, are now dreaming

differently? That our power, and our lives as well,

have been draining from us, ever since we gave you

Swords to use?”

Among the gods there were still some who could

persuade themselves to argue with this viewpoint.

“It’s all part of the Game-”

“The Game is over now.”

“Over? But who won?”

That one wasn’t answered.

“In the mountains, in the upper air, we’ll start to

feel strong again.”

They trudged on, climbed on. The capability of

swift effortless flight had once been theirs. Vulcan

thought that none of them were starting to feel

stronger. In fact the thin air was beginning to hurt

his lungs.

He would not have it, would not allow it to be so.

Bravely he cried out to Apollo: “You still say that

we are their creations? Bah! Then who created


Apollo did not reply.

Occasional volcanic rumbles now shook the

Earth beneath their feet; here and there subterra-

nean warmth created bare steaming spots of rock

amid the snow.

Their flight, their climb, was becoming slower

and slower. But it went on. Now where was Aphro-

dite? Vulcan looked around for her. It was not as if

she had departed, in the old, easy way, for some-

where else, he thought; she was simply and truly


He had not seen Hades for a long time, either.

Vilkata sensed something. “Where are you all

going?” the man shouted, or tried to shout. “I com-

mand you not to disappear. Turn round instead,

take me back down to the world of humanity. I’m

going to freeze to death up here!”

Vulcan had no wish to put up with the man’s

noise any longer, or with his weight that seemed to

grow and grow; and the god cast the blind, mewing

man aside, down a cliff into frozen oblivion, and

moved on.

The Smith summoned up his determination, try-

ing now to regain the purpose with which he had

begun this climb, long days ago. He mused aloud:

“It was near here-near here somewhere-that I

built my forge, to make the Swords. I piled up logs,

earth-wood, and lit them from the volcanic fires

below. If only I could find my forge again-”

Presently he realized that he was now alone, the

man having gone down a cliff somewhere, the last

of his divine companions having vanished, as if

evaporated upon the wind. The last wrangling

voice of them had been chilled down to silence.

But not quite the last.

“Then who created THEM?” the Smith bellowed,

hurling forth the question like a challenge to the

universe, at the top of his aching, newly perishable


He looked ahead.

There was something, or someone, lying in wait

for him, beyond that last convoluted corner of black

rock. Some new power, or ancient one, come to

claim the world? Or only the wind?

He was afraid to look.

The whole world was cold now. The Smith could

feel the awful cold turning against him, feel it as

easily and painfully as the weakest human might.

He wanted to look around the corner of the rock,

but he could not. He was afraid. Just in front of him,

volcanic heat and gas belched up, turning snow and

ice into black slush in a moment.

Vulcan lurched forward, seeking warmth. He fell

on his hands and knees. Dying, in what seemed to

him the first cold morning of the world, he groped

for fire.


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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred